Mud on the road - where do you stand legally
This year’s maize harvest has just begun and Dorset Police has already posted warnings to motorists on social media asking them to remain calm, be patient, act responsibly and drive carefully on rural roads, especially at this busy time of year when there are more tractor movements than normal on the roads.
No doubt all farmers / contractors are hoping that maize harvest will be like last year - an abundance of glorious autumn sunshine and very little rain! In reality, we all know that the likelihood of that happening two years in a row is very slim. If the rain does come, it is important for farmers / contractors to know their responsibilities when it comes to leaving mud, and other deposits, on the road.
Farmers and contractors are legally obliged to ensure that if their vehicles leave mud, and other deposits, on the road, they are responsible to clean it up. If they don’t, they could be liable for a number of offences under the Highways Act 1980.
If a person without lawful authority or excuse, in any way wilfully obstructs the free passage along a highway he / she is guilty of an offence. Likewise, if without lawful authority or excuse, a person deposits anything whatsoever on a highway – whether that be mud, diesel, silage, etc - to the interruption of any user of the highway he / she is guilty of an offence.
Furthermore, if anything is deposited on the highway so as to constitute a nuisance / danger the Highway Authority can require the person who put it there to remove it forthwith. Mud in particular may cause cars / motorbikes to skid and is therefore not only dangerous but also a nuisance.
Moreover, if a person without lawful authority or excuse deposits anything whatsoever on a highway in consequence of which a user of the highway is injured or endangered that person is guilty of an offence. If mud causes an accident, farmers / operators may be prosecuted. Punishments under the Highways Act 1980 and the Road Traffic Act 1988 range from fines to imprisonment. A farming company was recently found guilty of causing an accident by depositing mud on the road without lawful authority or excuse in which a user of a highway was injured or endangered.
The Road Traffic Act 1988 covers situations where mechanically propelled vehicles driven dangerously on roads can include a vehicle in a state that could be a danger to others.
Farmers / contractors must do everything possible to prevent mud, and other deposits, from being left on public roads which includes, where possible, cleaning mud off of the vehicles prior to going onto a public highway and cleaning the mud, and other deposits, off of the road. Although cleaning mud off agricultural machinery is inconvenient it may not be a defence in law.
If mud is deposited on the road and cannot be immediately tidied up, then motorists must be warned by way of warning signs. Signs must be positioned to give maximum visibility and warning to motorists.
If, as a farmer, you employ a contractor to carry out maize harvest, it is advised that it is discussed at the initial stages so that both farmers and contractors are fully aware of whose responsibility it is for cleaning up mud from the road and dealing with any issues which may arise as a consequence. It is also advisable to ensure that farmers and contractors hold adequate public liability insurance.
It’s a simple message – make sure maize harvest 2019 is a good and safe one.